Magna Carta on Religious Freedom Act gets final House nod

The House of Representatives has overwhelmingly passed on third and final reading the proposed Magna Carta on Religious Freedom Act, which is contained in House Bill (HB) No. 6492.

(Ellson Quismorio/ MANILA BULLETIN)

The measure prohibits the government or any person to burden, curtail, impinge or encroach on a person’s right to exercise his/her religious belief, freedom, and liberty of conscience except if the act results in violence or if it is necessary to protect the public.

It received 256 affirmative votes from House members during nominal voting in the plenary session Monday, Jan. 23. One voted in the negative, while three abstained.

Deputy Speaker and Cebu 5th district Rep. Vincent Franco “Duke” Frasco declared the bill as approved on third and final reading after the result was read.

The proposed law seeks to operationalize Section 5, Article III of the 1987 Constitution which provides that “No law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed. No religious test shall be required for the exercise of civil or political rights.”

Section 6 of HB No.6492 states that the right to freedom of religion can be denied, regulated, burdened, or curtailed only if it can be demonstrated that (1) the free exercise of religious freedom or conscience results to violence; and (2) it is necessary to protect public safety, public order, health, property, and good morals.

The bill does not apply to the act of the government in enacting laws in the exercise of its police power.

The bill explicitly protects 12 rights: Right to Choose a Religion or Religious Group; Right to Exercise or Express Religious Belief, Practices, Acts or Activities; Right to Act in Accordance with Conscience; Right to Propagate Religious Beliefs; Right to Disseminate Religious Publications; Right to Religious Worship and Ceremonies; Right to Organizational Independence; Right Against Discrimination in Employment; Right to Freedom Against Discrimination in Educational Institutions; Right of Companies or Businesses to be Founded on Religious Belief; Right of Parents or Legal Guardians to Rear Children; and Right to Tax Exemption.

Under Section 19, it will be unlawful for any person, natural or juridical (1) to compel a person, by means of force, threat, intimidation or undue influence, to choose or not to choose a particular religious group, or to subscribe to a particular religious belief; (2) or threaten a person with harm or exert undue influence or pressure to prevent such person from changing one’s religion or belief.

The measure also prohibits (3) exerting undue influence over the decisions made by any leader or leaders of a religious community through monetary, political, social and personal gains as well as parochial interest; (4) denying employment to qualified applicants solely on the basis of religion; and (5) terminating employment of a person solely on the basis of one’s adherence to religious beliefs. Ten other types of violations are listed under the provision.

It also provides penalties for violation of Section 19 such as fines ranging from a P50,000 to P2 million or imprisonment of six years and 1 day up to 10 years, depending on the offense and the offender.

HB No. 6492 was among several bills the that House, under the leadership of Speaker Martin Romualdez, passed on the first day of the resumption of session after a five-week long holiday break.

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